The O’Brien family have followed my art journey from the early stages and seen my work progress. They commissioned me to create something other than a portrait. I thought this was a great challenge, especially after the advice I had received in Washington D.C at ‘The Art of the Portrait’ conference. I know the O’Brien family well and we wanted a story behind their painting.
The O’Brien’s have 3 daughters, rescue dogs, cats, they love cooking, growing their own vegetables, family time, entertaining friends and loved ones, visiting breweries and they appreciate art. They wanted to include red and gray colors in the painting, capture textures and have something unique and special to them.
So, I collected objects to stage my first still life scene. I thought I’d start with food and drink objects and build my setting from there. I picked up objects from various places including my own kitchen, and my neighbor’s kitchen, where I found some shiny steel bowls. I thought it would be interesting to capture reflection and texture by using these. At this stage I was unaware of how much they would influence my painting! The thrift store was great to pick up things and they already looked used.
I thought about a family dinner setting for my painting. I imagined the setting where vegetables had been picked from the garden, a home cooked meal was being prepared, they were enjoying their favorite beer, and their cat was trying to climb on the table as he always did! I thought it would be great to add their 3 daughters into the painting. That’s where the paper with sketches in the glass comes into the scene.
So where was I going to stage all these objects? I tried various places in our kitchen which didn’t work for me. Then I tried our breakfast bar and it worked! I thought it could easily imitate a wooden table in my painting. I could already see which oil paints I would use to create that rich wood color. I used a plastic decorating sheet as a back drop to block out the rest of the kitchen. My shiny steel bowl would have captured all the reflection of my kitchen cabinets and I needed to block this out. Creativity levels certainly increase when resources are limited!
I took some time to study well known still life paintings. I looked for what the general rules and tips were for staging each object. Thinking about composition for a still life painting seemed different from a portrait.
I played around with all the objects, staging them, taking a photograph of my setting and studying it. Sometimes I see more by looking at a photograph (upside down or the correct way around). I rearranged the objects a countless number of times until I came to a setting that I was happy with.
My staged still life setting sat on our breakfast bar for a few months as I worked on this painting. I worked from life and took photographs of the setting so I could analyze it further and remember exactly where each object was placed.
I thought about where the cat would come into the setting. If I wanted to challenge myself, then to have him peeking behind the glass would do that. The glass would capture so many different reflections. It would stretch the cat’s reflection around the curved glass. The easiest way achieve this was to print off a life size image of the cat and place it behind the glass. Then stand back and study the setting. I managed to see where his reflection interacts with the glass. It was more than one place on the glass.
Once the painting was finished it was ready for an unveiling party. The O’Brien’s had not seen this painting and wanted to see it for the first time alongside their guests at this party. I placed the painting on my easel in their living room with a red cloth over it. As per the photos above I encouraged everyone to come up close to see the details. It was a fun night. This was a very memorable first still life painting. I learned so much from this painting and used this knowledge to create my next still life painting!